Gilbert White: Floods are acts of God, but flood losses are largely acts of man

Gilbert White a pioneer in understanding the social-ecological nature of natural disasters died recently in Colorado. He died, in early October 2006, age 94 after a long and diverse career that centered on the impact of flooding.

White argued that ‘hard’ engineering solutions to flooding, such as dams and levees, frequently produced pathological results. His PhD research at the University of Chicago “Human adjustment to floods,” showed river engineering had increased, rather than decreased, the costs of floods, because river engineering resulted in more settlement in the floodplain, increasing vulnerability to large flood.

The Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder maintains a Gilbert White archive.

The University of Colorado has an obituary. The Washington Post also has an obituary that quotes Gilbert White:

While watching the German occupation of France, I became convinced that man can no more conquer or preserve a civilization by war than he can conquer nature solely by engineering force,” Dr. White told broadcaster Edward R. Murrow for the radio program “This I Believe” in 1951.

“I found that an occupying army or a concentration camp can repress men’s basic beliefs but cannot change them. The good life, like the balance of all the complex elements of a river valley, is founded upon friendly adjustment. . . . It embraces confidence in fellowship, tolerance in outlook, humility in service and a constant search for the truth.”

One thought on “Gilbert White: Floods are acts of God, but flood losses are largely acts of man”

  1. Climate change was the topic of BloG AcTioN Day last October 15, 2009. As you surf the internet today, you will still see so many articles about global warming. People are really affected now. So i guess, this post has been very timely. Let me share my own calamitous story – About three weeks ago, we were hit by two very strong storms. We never had that in decades. They left our country with still so many flooded areas, a lot were homeless and lost so many loved ones. Until now, we are still sweeping the streets from mud and tons of ruined appliances drowned from the flood. The effects of those twin storm were devastating. It’s not wet season for us here, but we we were informed that we are still expecting four more storms on this last quarter of the year. And just this morning, local news says, weeks from now, we are expecting a strong earthquake to hit the metro city including the nearby provinces. This is the same Metro city hit by the twin storms. And the news says its all because of global warming/climate change. I’m blithely about the issue before, but when the twin storm hit us plus all the bad news, I thought, I must do something too. To solve the global warming problem, it must be stormed at the national and international levels.But the total success is built upon the action of every individual, regardless of nationality, to conserve energy and live in a greener, cleaner community. HaPpy BloG Action WeEk! 🙂

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